By Sue Sprang
“How are you?”
That is a common question we Americans ask when we greet someone.
“Hello. How are you?”
“Hi! How’re ya doin’?”
“Hey, there! How’s it going?”
No matter how we express it, the implication is the same. We are asking those to whom we speak how life is for them at that moment. How is their health, their work, their contentment in life? How is their family doing, what’s new in their lives, what are their concerns?
Yet, we don’t expect them to share all that stuff with us. What we do expect is for the person to reply: “Hi! I’m fine,” or “I’m good,” or “Not bad. And you?” Sometimes a shrug accompanies the response.
And that’s where the greeting ends. The conversation turns another direction, diverts the question. We go our separate ways, continuing our shopping or whatever we were doing before running into one another.
But the “stuff” is still there. Good or bad, it’s still hanging around, each of us with our own stuff dwelling inside of us wanting to be shared, to be released to the listening ears and caring hearts of others.
Now, for the religious, we have a “Higher Being” of some sort on which to lean. Those of the Christian tradition look to God, through Jesus, as that source: “Come to me, all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV).
Indeed, having this source of caring listening available to us is comforting. It is a place where we can lay it all out without fear of rebuke. It can be life-changing.
But we also often crave being able to say it to another human being. It’s the need to see the face, hear the voice, feel the touch, or sense the understanding of another who has been created in God’s image. It’s the conscious or unconscious need to connect with humanity in a meaningful way.
Maybe we need new words ingrained in our everyday conversation. Maybe those words should be shalom (Hebrew) or salaam (Arabic).
Shalom and salaam are very serious words. They go beyond “hello” or “peace” or “how goes it”. They are directed to the receiver’s inner core and solicit concerns of peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquility.
Imagine this greeting:
“Shalom. How are you?” I am implying that I care about you and want to know how things really are for you at this moment. Do you have burdens, joys to share? I am ready to listen. I am ready to care.
“Salaam. I could use a good ear at this moment.” I am implying that I do, indeed have burdens or joys to share, and I am in need of your ears and your heart – and I am ready to listen to and take to heart yours as well.
Imagine if shalom and salaam became part of our everyday vocabulary, just as much as “hi, how are you,” or “how’s it going”.
When we are greeted with a “Hello, how’s it been”, we often have to run a quick check through our heads. Does this person really want to know how I am or is this just a cliché greeting? Dare I say how things really are for me at this moment, on this particular day? I’m not sure how to respond…
“Okay, I guess. How about you?” (shrug)
When we are greeted with, “Salaam, how’s it been”, we know we’re about to engage with another human being in a very meaningful way.
“Shalom, it has been a mix of blessings and troubles.”
Imagine the difference an opening conversation could make in that moment, in that day, in a lifetime!
Note: This article was originally written for my congregation’s web site blog, which I share with my pastor, Emily Olsen. – Sue S.